Downregulation of the growth hormone/insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1)axis is one of the most robust biomarkers of mammalian aging. Reports have suggested that age-related changes in secretion of growth hormone and IGF-1 contribute to the development of some peripheral characteristics of the aged phenotype including decreased bone density and lean body mass. Recent work has focused on the identification of a role for age-related reductions in growth hormone and IGF-1 in the development of cognitive impairments associated with aging. In the current study, we report that aged (30 month-old) Brown NorwayxFisher rats demonstrate impairments in spatial learning compared with adult (10 month-old) animals, and that 4-month treatment with growth hormone (300 μg twice daily) attenuates age-related learning impairments. After 6 months of treatment, we employed an extracellular paired-pulse protocol to investigate age-related changes in hippocampal short-term plasticity, and found that aged rats exhibit significantly increased paired-pulse ratios (PPRs) at an interpulse interval of 50 ms compared with adult rats. Long-term growth hormone administration restored PPRs in aged animals to values comparable to those observed in adult controls. Since the age-related changes observed in PPR may result from decreases in hippocampal inhibitory tone mediated by GABA A receptors, we assessed GABA A receptor subunit expression by immunoblot analysis. Data revealed significant age-related decreases in GABA A receptor α-1 subunit expression which were attenuated by growth hormone treatment. However, hippocampal levels of the γ2 subunit, glutamic acid decarboxylase (GAD) 65, and GAD 67 protein concentrations were not significantly affected by age or growth hormone treatment. In conclusion, we suggest that age-related decreases in growth hormone and IGF-1 contribute to cognitive decline, in part, via alterations in hippocampal short-term plasticity. Changes in plasticity may reflect a shift in the balance of hippocampal inhibitory and excitatory function. © 2004 IBRO. Published by Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.